Malaysians in Singapore scramble to make plans to vote

Minutes after Malaysia's election date was announced, Mr Lim Khoon Yang was at his computer feverishly searching for flights to Penang, his home state.

The 30-year-old software developer, who has been working in Singapore for the past two years, has never voted before.

Now, with the date of Malaysia's highly anticipated electoral contest finally revealed, he cannot wait to be home for the May 5 polls.

"I'm so relieved, I've been waiting for far too long," he said.

Wednesday's announcement galvanised some of the 400,000 Malaysians living in Singapore. While not all will be going home, especially those who failed to register in time, those who did register are scrambling to make travel plans.

Postal voting was finally allowed for overseas Malaysians this year, but not for those living in Singapore, Brunei, southern Thailand and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Malaysians in these places must return to cast their vote.

A check with four coach companies that operate buses from Singapore to Malaysia revealed that tickets for the weekend of May 5 are running out or fully sold for destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Taiping, Ipoh and Penang.

Tickets have also been selling fast for buses leaving on May 1 and the night of April 30.

May 1 is Labour Day, a public holiday in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Some customers do not care what time the bus leaves, so long as they get a ticket, said Mr Leong Ying Ken, a manager at Golden Coach Express.

Five Stars Tours, which has 50 buses going to Malaysia every day, is considering doubling services to 100 a day for the May 5 weekend.

Deputy general manager Chris Tay said demand is higher compared with that for the 2008 General Election.

"This time, a lot of people are very actively interested about going home to vote. It's also because they have a chance to spend a long weekend with their family from Labour Day onwards," she said.

At least two groups have asked to charter 26-seater buses, said Mr Tan Boon Huat, managing director of Grassland Express & Tours.

Budget airlines like AirAsia and Tiger Airways are also seeing brisk ticket sales to Malaysian destinations for the May 5 weekend.

A carpool has been set up by Jom Balik Undi, a group whose name means "Let's go back to vote" in Malay.

About 300 drivers and passengers have been paired up, with another 330 passengers from small towns still hoping to find a driver.

Many believe this election's result will go down to the wire, said Mr Andrew Yong, a founder of My Overseas Vote, an organisation which has been campaigning for postal voting.

"It is the most closely fought election in Malaysian history, and every vote will count," he said.

twong@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Sabrina Tiong and Rachel Tan